Your students are capable of so much. Part of your job as a teacher is to hold them up to the high standards that you know they can reach.
This can be tough if you don’t want to seem too strict or demanding. But accepting less from your student isn’t fair to them, either. You can and should hold your students to high standards in a nurturing way.
There are certain areas where you simply should not let things slide. Ever.
Unless your student has a special need which makes this more challenging for them, you should not accept poor posture while they are playing in lessons. You should also ask their parents to help cultivate a good posture habit at home.
It’s fine to let teenagers slump in between performances. It’s totally understandable if a 4-year-old needs to wriggle while they listen to you play. But when they are playing, they should be sitting up tall with their feet planted. No exceptions.
Take it from someone who has been there and seen countless other teachers with the same t-shirt…
Your student must have a decent instrument to practice on at home before they start lessons. Letting parents “see if they take to it first” is only going to guarantee that their child does not take to it because their home practice experience is so poor!
Allowing a beginner student to use any finger that comes naturally to them while they work to develop their arm weight is absolutely fine. Encouraging more advanced students to change the fingering in a piece to suit their particular anatomy is perfect.
What’s not OK is letting students use any old finger when they notation says otherwise, without good reason. We also want to avoid students randomly shifting their hand around mid-piece in favour of their strongest fingers. These bad habits are easily fixed in the beginning and so hard to break later on. Don’t let your students get into them.
You need to maintain control over your lessons. If you have asked your students to do something, they must do it.
You can and should give your students choice. But when you don’t give them a choice – when you directly ask them to do something – they must do it. Allowing students to say “no” to direct requests is a slippery slope which will lead to a poor relationship and lack of respect.
Having high standards for your students doesn’t mean that every piece needs to be polished up to a high performance-level shine. Your goal should be to know what your student needs to learn from a piece and not to stop until that goal is achieved.
Sometimes the goal will be a recital standard performance or even memorisation. Other times, you will simply want them to learn about phrasing or a new dynamic mark or rhythm pattern and that will be enough.
We always want to have a certain number of pieces that students polish to a gleaming shine. This is a skill which needs to be developed, and learning these pieces will allow them to show off their skills to family and friends. And showing off is very important for motivation!
If you pay attention to your student’s reaction and have open conversations with them, you’ll learn to pick out the pieces which spark joy for them. Whenever those pieces arrive, use the opportunity to take that piece a little bit further and demand a concert-worthy performance of the piece.
If your student is ever learning a piece they simply hate, you should scrap it. It is never worth slogging through a piece week-after-week when you know they don’t enjoy it and aren’t practising it. That does not achieve anything, so just take it off the list.
It’s the in-betweeny pieces where you need those specific teaching goals. These are the pieces that students say are “nice” but don’t fall head over heels in love with.
For many students, much of their repertoire will be like this, and that’s totally fine. We can’t be doing somersaults all the time! These are the pieces which require you to have a strong understanding of your goal, though, so you can recognise that goal when it’s achieved and move along. There are always things we could improve and it’s up to us as teachers to choose which to polish and which to leave for later.
Rehearse a conversation with a potential piano parent about their instrument. Imagine that they have an unweighted keyboard and want to get started to see if their little one likes it before upgrading. Write an imagined script in your Music Journey Journal and then ask a question about this lesson in the community.